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An estimated 147 million Americans are expected to hit the stores on Black Friday and the weekend that follows, marking the traditional kickoff to a holiday shopping season that, in reality, already began weeks ago.

Don't let the hype cloud your judgment on Black Friday. While retailers are working hard to lure customers with door-buster deals, sales are standard fare throughout the holidays, so there's no guarantee that the price you pay on Black Friday will be the lowest of the holiday season.

Here are some tips to get the most out of Black Friday weekend.

*Plan and compare. Comb through today's ads carefully. Sites like gottadeal.com, fatwallet.com and blackfriday.com have features that let shoppers sort through deals from all the stores they track, allowing consumers to search, for example, for all deals on televisions.

*Be social. Be sure to "like" your favorite stores' Facebook pages and follow their Twitter feeds. Stores will be using social media more than ever this Black Friday to keep shoppers updated on last-minute deals and discounts.

*The lucky few. Be wary of door-buster deals that only come in limited quantities. Read the fine print in the ads. If a store says it only guarantees that each store will have 10 of a particular item, that's a tip-off there's a good chance that item will be sold out by the time you get there.

*Have a schedule. With Black Friday spilling over into Thanksgiving evening this year, store opening times are staggered, which means serious Black Friday shoppers need to schedule their stops to take the most advantage of the door-buster sales. Stores like Walmart are opening at 8 tonight; Target opens at 9. Other stores, from Macy's to Best Buy and Kohl's, are opening at midnight.

*Keep watching. Hang on to your receipts and understand a store's return policies before you buy, because there's a decent chance that you'll find the same, or a similar, item on sale later for a better price. Keep watching the ads and continue to scour websites for price drops later on.

*I'll match that. Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us all have limited price-matching policies that include online retailers, but there are plenty of exceptions. Best Buy's price-matching policy, for instance, doesn't apply between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.?

email: drobinson@buffnews.com